As recently as a few weeks ago, the upcoming special election in Mississippi's 1st District wasn't making any headlines. It seemed like just another special in a deeply Republican district, destined to have no more significance than to determine the specific personal brand of right-wingery the district would send to DC for the next twenty years (incumbent Reps are rarely defeated in Mississippi).
Things have changed, of course. And while I firmly believe that the Republican nominee, Greg Davis, should still be strongly favored to win this race, all the recent movement in the race has favored Democrat Travis Childers.
Last week a poll was released (Democratic internal) showing Childers narrowly leading Davis in a head-to-head matchup, 41% to 40%. Subsequently, the Cook Political Report dramatically changed their ranking of this race last week...moving it all the way from "Safe Republican" to "Leans Republican".
Yesterday, CQ Politics followed suit. They have moved their own ranking to "Leans Republican", pointing to the Democratic party infrastructure within the district as a factor:
But Democrats say the 1st District’s days as a traditional Southern stronghold — dominated for more than 53 years by conservative Democrat Jamie L. Whitten, the longtime Appropriations Committee chairman who was Wicker’s predecessor — are not that distant a memory. They note that a resilient party infrastructure has enabled their party to hold on to most local offices even as their grip has slipped in federal and statewide elections.
"Eighty percent of local officials in the district are Democrats," said Childers campaign manager Joel Coon, adding that his candidate has received strong support from a number of his fellow county chancery clerks — whose positions entail broad administrative responsibilities in their home counties — and what he called the "courthouse crowd" that includes circuit clerks in multiple counties.
CQ also notes that our competitive primary has actually spurred greater Democratic turnout and buzz in the district:
The wild card in the races to succeed Wicker may be turnout. The highly competitive contest for the Democratic presidential nomination between Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York has energized the Democratic voting base widely across the country, and Mississippi’s 1st District has not been immune to that. Democratic voters outnumbered Republican voters in the 1st District primary and runoff for November’s general election contest.
I personally think that Cook and CQ are being a bit too generous here. I think Childers is running a very good race, and has as good a shot as we could have dreamed of. I think he deserves strong support, and I think there's a realistic chance that he will be the district's next Congressman. Still, it's a very Republican district-redder than all but six Democratic-held seats-and Davis' fundraising has outstripped Childers' to this point.
Frankly, given the area's Republican nature, I think it's highly impressive that we're competitive in this district at all. The fact that this race is competitive speaks to Childers' strengths as a candidate, as well as to the popularity-or lack thereof-of his rather controversial opponent Greg Davis, who apparently has a somewhat unpleasant history with racist groups:
In Mississippi's Second District, Southaven Mayor Greg Davis agreed in 2001 to accept a plaque as a gift from the Council of Conservative Citizens, thanking the town for flying the state flag in the midst of a controversy over the flag's Confederate emblems, according to press reports at the time.
There was a brief public outcry, during which Davis initially defended accepting the gift from the CCC, which is well-known for espousing doctrines of "racial integrity." In the end though, Davis declined the gift. The episode involving the CCC hasn't emerged as an issue in the current campaign -- yet. But Davis won a seriously contested primary, and might just be vulnerable against Prentiss County clerk Travis Childers, the Dem challenger.
Shocking, for a guy who won Trent Lott's endorsement, and $8,000 of his leftover campaign cash, in the Republican primary. African-Americans make up roughly a quarter of the population in MS-01, so I certainly can't see this helping at all. We'll see how much of an issue it becomes in the week before the special election.
Remember, the special election is just a week away on April 22, with a likely runoff on May 13(there are six candidates on the April 22 ballot, which should split the vote nicely).
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